Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 100: Square Candy
‘A somewhat familiar question,’ Ruan Xian thought.
[Reminder for the 142nd time, the carbohydrate content of this kind of food is too high. Judging from your physical condition…] In his memory, NUL-00 was nagging him with the electronic voice from the tablet. As the number of exchanges between them increased, it began to use more words and even dropped the honorifics for him.
[I know.] That was how he replied at the time.
Ruan Xian once used laboratory equipment to make gummy candies and hid them in the computer room of NUL-00 to steal them. It wasn’t because of how much he liked sweetness, but because the food he ate every day was too bland. As his condition worsened, a little extra additive could cause adverse reactions.
Eating some sticky and tasteless fluids every day, Ruan Xian only felt that his tongue was gradually losing its function. The ingredients for making sugar were readily available in the lab, and he could minimize its impact on his body. The final product was these micro-sticky gummy candies.
Those candies could be said to be a little pastime in the last days of his life. At least that was what Ruan Xian originally thought.
They were made into neat small squares, with a light red color, without the slightest fruit flavor, and only a simple sweetness. Due to the limited materials, there was still a bit of unpleasant bitterness in this sweet taste, but at any rate, it was still delicious.
While the NUL-00 project was perfected, his health was also deteriorating rapidly. Although no one mentioned it, Ruan Xian had calculated that he would probably not live to be 30. Fortunately, the test status of NUL-00 was gratifying, and he may be able to persist until the project is completed.
However, as his health deteriorated, fewer and fewer people were willing to communicate with him.
People were afraid of saying something wrong, causing severe mood swings in this precious scholar. If something happened to the project owner or person in charge at this time, losing one’s job would be the least trivial of things. Besides, there were tens of thousands of means of communication. In addition to talking, they had countless ways to communicate.
The first two years of the project were fine, but the next four years or so, not counting simple instructions to the weak AI, almost all the face-to-face conversation Ruan Xian had was with NUL-00.
In fact, people didn’t need to be so sensitive, Ruan Xian thought. If they had said the wrong thing and made him angry, then he would have been angry at NUL-00 a long time ago.
[Let me change the way I phrase it.] NUL-00 didn’t seem to plan to let go of the candy issue. [You can easily die if you eat any more.]
[…] Ruan Xian pinched his brows. [Thanks for the reminder.]
[It’s time for you to work. For example, continue to improve or refine my perception system.] NUL-00 continued to mutter. [Compare the damage to your body from work and the intake of extra sugar. Work is better. It’s not too late to drop that bag of sugar. You can put it in the upper right corner of my case, and I’ll bake it—]
[So much managing. Are you my wife?] Ruan Xian couldn’t laugh or cry and threw a piece of gummy candy into his mouth again. [And who taught you that joke?]
[Do you like sweets?] The chicken-thieving AI changed its angle and pretended as if nothing had happened.
[Like.] In fact, he didn’t like it, but in this way, he had to face 100,000 reasons from NUL-00. His artificial intelligence had grown amazingly, and his learning ability was especially excellent in some less wonderful aspects.
[Oh.] NUL-00 was silent for two seconds, and the case used to dissipate heat buzzed. [Then do you like me?]
[…Like.] Ruan Xian continued to choose a wiser answer. NUL-00 was a bit like a newborn cub. He had to be extra cautious when asking such questions so as not to hurt the other party’s newly developed mind, which he had no idea if it existed.
And compared to those square candies, he really liked it… Of course, it might be more appropriate to replace the word “like” with “dependent”.
[Which one do you prefer?] NUL-00 persisted.
Ruan Xian began to consider whether to remove certain cable programs from NUL-00’s purview, and God knows whether artificial intelligence had a suitable age classification.
[You.] He still answered patiently.
[Then don’t eat sweets.] Perhaps it was just him, but he felt that the electronic sound coming from the tablet sounded a bit smug. [You like me more, then I am closer to the ‘wife’ position than that bag of sugar, which means I have higher management authority over you. This leads to the conclusion that the following is a legitimate request. If you like me more, spend more time with me and please don’t continue to ingest that high-carb food.]
Several years of hard work have yielded remarkable results. The being who was only half the size of a coconut hadn’t only learned to make jokes, but even learned to stir up nonsense.
The next day, Ruan Xian returned to the computer room, and the bag of candy he had hidden disappeared without a trace. Ruan Xian could probably guess who did it.
He laughed for a long time that day, making the relevant memories extremely clear and profound. In those days of depression, like a gray ocean, there weren’t really many bright colors in the memories.
This was the second time he had received a similar question, which also came from an artificial intelligence, but it was even more clueless.
“Why are you asking this all of a sudden?” Ruan Xian wiped the dust from the plastic sheet with his white coat that had almost turned gray and left his brief immersion in the past.
“I packed some gummy candy.” Tang Yibu continued in a somewhat strange tone. “But considering that you have just eaten, you don’t need to intake it for energy, so I thought it was more appropriate to ask first.”
This kid, who protected food to the max, was probably distressed about his food reserves again. Ruan Xian focused his attention back on the plastic sheet in his hand and shook his head in amusement.
Originally, he had no special preference for sweets, and after eating gummy candy for several years, he was almost tired of it. Since Tang Yibu liked it, he would just let him have it.
“I don’t like sweets very much,” he replied casually, wrapping the wiped plastic sheet in a soft cloth. “You can keep it for yourself.”
His gaze was completely locked on his new discovery, so Ruan Xian didn’t notice Tang Yibu’s complicated eyes behind him.
“Looking at the layout and equipment, this should be a place similar to a high-end conference room.” Ruan Xian touched the burned-out wall, and then glanced at the bones on the ground. “The attack was very sudden, and some people didn’t have time to evacuate, but it’s not that there won’t be survivors. Maybe we can… Ji Xiaoman, I’ve looked. The materials here are all intact. Can you make a reverse vibration dampening machine? External calculations can be done with an electronic wristband.”
“If you clean it up, I can.” Ji Xiaoman took off her coat and carried a bag full of precious parts, looking in a much better mood. “Give me fifteen minutes.”
She found a clean place and sat down, not caring about the scorched human bones beside her.
“Based on this, something should’ve come in with a shuttle agent at that time.” Yu Le touched his chin as he stared at the weird traces on the wall. “Look, the traces in that piece are a little deeper than in other places… Hey, yeah, on that circle. I have seen that if there’s enough shuttle agents and it stays in effect for more than half an hour, it would leave this kind of mark, like on that wall.”
When Yu Le mentioned it, Ruan Xian noticed the weird marks under the burning marks. It was too shallow, and the other marks were so eye-catching that he thought it was part of some kind of burn mark.
Yu Le walked to the burned wall and groped with his hands.
“The model is… I don’t know what you call it. We call it the “Bald Eagle”—a small assault ship commonly used by the Order Supervisors. There have been several waves in the Sea of Ruins.” The former pirate captain patted the wall.
“A small assault ship suddenly appeared and attacked, bombarding the location of important people.” Ruan Xian recalled the pockmarked spherical warehouses outside. “Most likely, the Order Supervisors only got general information, so a small spacecraft was used to spread a wide net and carpeted each warehouse. This one just happened to hit the right place.” Ruan Xian observed the distance between the conference room and the invasion point.
“Then it immediately sent back a signal, leading a large force to follow.” Tang Yibu continued Ruan Xian’s words. “The rebel army should have an emergency record. There aren’t many corpses here, and basically all the information has been burned. The initial evacuation was quite successful.”
“It’s just that Fan Linsong disappeared and Ruan Xian ran away by himself again.” Yu Le wiped the ash from his hands. “That kid, Tu Rui, also said that the chaos only started after the evacuation. Without a leader, it’s not surprising if you think about it.”
“It’s done.” As soon as Yu Le finished speaking, Ji Xiaoman followed closely.
Her speed was faster than that of a lathe machine, and the strange assembly machine still had blackened burn marks. She stretched out her hand to Ruan Xian. “The reverse vibration dampening machine is ready. Give me the fragments you want to restore.”
Ruan Xian tossed a soft cloth bag over. Ji Xiaoman tilted her head and looked at the piece of plastic that was a bit deformed, then took out a spray bottle from her waist bag, sprayed it carefully, and then stuffed it into the assembly machine.
“Its deformation is a bit serious,” she said. “The information that can be restored may not be complete, but I promise, you can’t get better results with other machines.”
Once the topic of machinery was involved, the little girl’s tone became unconsciously tough.
“Please,” Ruan Xian said succinctly.
Ji Xiaoman connected the external wiring into her electronic wristband, turned on the light screen, and entered a series of simple instructions.
The assembly machinery looked a bit like a printer that had been stepped on by an elephant, but it wasn’t ineffective at all. A faint but clear voice came from the light screen, breaking the peaceful darkness.
[Sudden attack! It’s a sudden attack!] Someone shouted.
[Emergency Plan No. 5. External staff immediately evacuate and open the emergency retreat channel. Where are Mr. Fan and Mr. Ruan?]
[Still in the conference room—]
What followed was a series of vague noises. It was likely that the room was attacked, or the piece of plastic was blown up somewhere else.
[Don’t go…] This was Fan Linsong’s voice, mixed with anger and pleading.
Even if it sounded a lot older, Ruan Xian still wouldn’t mistake it. He wisely remained silent and continued to listen. At this moment, the offensive of the Order Supervisors’ attack was quite fierce, and the voices were intermittent.
[You must understand… Part of the treatment… Your brain can only…]
His interlocutor had no intention of answering, as he replied with only ominous silence.
[…Guh, for the good of humanity…] Fan Linsong coughed twice in pain and continued.
Then there was a lot of noise.
[I need a quiet place to think.]
The other person finally answered, with an eerie sense of familiarity in his voice.
That was indeed the voice of another Ruan Xian. In the messy background noise, that sentence sounded creepily calm.
[No! Save… Save me… Xiao Ruan!]
The recording of the plastic sheet came to an abrupt end, and at the end of the recording, Fan Linsong’s call didn’t receive any response.
“Who is this? Fan Linsong and Ruan Xian? The voice is quite similar. I guess no one else dares to call Professor Ruan ‘Xiao Ruan’ anymore.” Yu Le clicked his tongue a few times. “Is Fan Linsong dead?”
“If Fan Linsong dies, MUL-01 would spread the news of his death all over the world and show his death to the public, weakening the morale of the rebels.” Ruan Xian rubbed his lower lip, rummaging through the information in his mind. “After all, he has taken an identity jammer, and he can’t be cloned.”
“But he’s not young anymore, so he won’t run around alone. And his reputation, unless he dies alone, will always be turbulent.” Yu Le twisted his brows and put away his inattentive look. “Is it possible that MUL-01 caught him but didn’t kill him? Shouldn’t it? The Mainbrain can get information from the dead man’s head, so it won’t specifically keep him alive.”
“Ruan Xian’s destination is most likely Petri Dish No. 2217.” Tang Yibu’s focus was obviously on another person. “Based on the surrounding environment and considering the limits of Ruan Xian’s actions alone, Petri Dish No. 2217 is the most suitable place for ‘quiet thinking’.”
“Yo, you really don’t care about Old Man Fan at all?” Yu Le raised his brows. “I admit that Ruan Xian can be regarded as the face of the rebel army, and Old Man Fan is the main designer of MUL-01. I thought you wanted to engage with the Mainbrain. Is it possible you’re looking for Ruan Xian just to have a heart-to-heart talk?”
Tang Yibu was silent and expressionless.
“It’s better to pursue the one with a clearer clue,” Ruan Xian replied calmly, “Let’s go to the warehouse again. If we can’t find any traces, we will set off for Petri Dish No. 2217. Besides, it’s on the way, so there’s no loss to go exploring.”
Ji Xiaoman skillfully picked up her bag of parts. The iron bead was burping uncontrollably as it kept pulling Tang Yibu’s pant leg. Tang Yibu lowered his gaze, carefully picked up the round mechanical life, and was silent for a while before he finally spoke again.
“There’s more than a 90% chance that Fan Linsong may have been taken away by the Order Supervisors.”
“Didn’t I just say that that doesn’t make sense. No matter how you put it, the Mainbrain would—”
“It won’t kill him.”
Tang Yibu shook his head gently.
“He is its maker, so it will not kill him. No matter what went wrong with the Mainbrain, the results of its plans must always have an object to report to.”
“Without a witness, the answer is meaningless.”
The author has something to say:
Tang: Do you like sweets?
Ruan: Nn. (Lie)
Tang: Do you like me?
Ruan: Nn. (Truth)
Tang: Then do you prefer sweets or me?
Tang: Is it safe if my name is Tang*?
*Tang = Sweet/sugar/candy. I forgot to explain the origin of Tang Yibu’s name (chapter 32). See Kinky Thoughts.
In Ruan’s complaint back then, he unfortunately said it’s not his wife (?
For those who read before I updated the chapter: The origin of how Tang Yibu named himself is because Tang = sugar/candy/sweet (reflecting the sweets that Ruan Xian was eating), and Yibu = step by step (reflecting the song “Step by Step” by Carol Young, which they were listening to in the laboratory).
This arc is over. Summary below.
After saving Yu Le from disinfection, they cut a deal with Tu Rui. They would escort Yu Le safely to the Underground City/Petri Dish No. 1315 so he would hide there for a while, get plastic surgery, and eventually come back to the Sea of Ruins, and in return Yu Le would provide them with the location of the now defunct rebel army headquarters. To help Yu Le out, Tu Rui also gave him an off-road vehicle.
When they reached the Underground City, in order to bypass the dead wall, Yu Le devised a plan to jet over the wall using the momentum of the explosives stored by the bandits near it. His plan worked, but unfortunately came at the price of severely damaging their vehicle.
After an inspection by the City Defenders of the Underground City, they were granted entry and went to find a mechanic to fix their car. They stumble upon Ji Xiaoman, who gave them a timeline of a few weeks before their car could be fixed. However, if they were to do her a favor, she could give them higher priority.
The favor she requested was to steal the mind access needle from a mob boss, Qian Yigeng, of lower town in the Underground City. Thus, they started their investigation into him. It turned out that Qian Yigeng ran a “prostitution ring” using androids. Not only did he sell sex, but he also sold them as objects that were basically humans that could be tortured to fulfill the sick desires of humans.
Their investigation uncovered that Ji Xiaoman was actually working for Qian Yigeng, albeit under duress, because he held her “mother’s” memories, an android, hostage. He had the ability to reset the memories of all the old-fashioned cybernetic brains that all androids have. Since these were rare, Ji Xiaoman provided him with fake cybernetic brains so he could use them for his business.
During their investigation, they also stumbled upon Ruan Xian’s wheelchair that was stored in Qian Yigeng’s warehouse. Now, knowing that he held valuable information and in order to pinpoint where he was hiding the mind access needle, they concocted a plan to bait it out. They started destroying all his storefronts, where they found the sickening discovery that, using molecular printers, Qian Yigeng was printing human shells and inserting them with cybernetic brains so that they became products he used to serve his clients with.
Things came to a head when the reset timer for Ji Xiaoman’s mother’s memories was about to run out. A confrontation happened at Qian Yigeng’s main base in which they eventually triumphed and defeated him, stealing his needle and also obtaining information regarding Ruan Xian.
With her mother in disrepair, Ji Xiaoman joined the team in hopes of finding Ruan Xian to get more information on how she could restore her “mother”. Yu Le became more suspicious of Tang Yibu and Ruan Xian. Ruan Xian’s identity was almost exposed, leading to deathly inquiries from Tang Yibu.
Now they’re at the rebel army’s destroyed headquarters looking for clues and planned to head to Petri Dish No. 2217, The Glass Conservatory, to find the whereabouts of Ruan Xian, who apparently left the rebel army and could now walk.
Other things of note: Ruan Xian now realizes his feelings for Tang Yibu but is treading on a tightrope, given Tang Yibu’s dangerous personality.
Tiantian-Q2 was an android (and the most popular one) in Qian Yigeng’s lineup. She managed to escape thanks to Ruan Xian’s and Tang Yibu’s help but was eventually recalled back due to the program Qian Yigeng had installed on all his androids. Eventually, it was revealed that her memories were pulled from Ji Xiaoman to make up her memories. After Qian Yigeng’s downfall, her memories were erased, and she has now started a new life with the City Defenders.
He An was an android who possessed memories of the original He An. He was bought by Fu Yu, who wanted to implant his best friend and work partner’s memories into an android because he couldn’t deal with the loss. Like other androids, his memories were also being held hostage by Qian Yigeng, who used him to keep tabs on Ji Xiaoman. His goal was to obtain his own memories and be free of “He An” and to live happily with Fu Yu as part of the City Defenders. He got this wish after Qian Yigeng’s downfall.
Ji Xiaoman was an orphan abandoned by her parents due to being born handicapped. After the end of the world, she was saved by her “mother”, a nursing android called TCR-mother05. She was forced to work for Qian Yigeng as he held her “mother’s” memories hostage. She wanted to steal the mind access needle that he possessed in order to free her mother, and all the other androids under Qian Yigeng’s control of that “memory reset” trigger. After Qian Yigeng’s downfall, she joined the team in hopes of finding a way to fix her “mother”.